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Auto Focus

Starring: Greg Kinnear, Willem Dafoe, Maria Bello, Rita Wilson, and Ron Leibman.
Directed by: Paul Schrader
Rated: R

Auto Focus is a stylish snapshot of a life riddled with contrasts that sometimes make you shudder but, ultimately, reminds you we are free to chose our destiny.

Be prepared. AF glares its not always flattering lens onto the life of all-American Bob Crane. Bob was something of a celebrity mansteak extravaganza in his day. Swell on the retina and a twinkle in his eye. Who better to capture his suave ways than that swell on the retina and twinkle eyed Greg Kinnear? And Bob, for better of worse, is best known as the smarter-than-the-average-prisoner-of-war Colonel Robert Hogan who ran things in a POW camp known as Stalag 13. Stalag 13, for those too young to recall, was the TV set for the show 'Hogan's Heroes'.

Hogan's Heroes was number one and Crane's star was rising - again. He had already conquered the airwaves thanks to his melodic voice and precision delivery. Now his good looks and exuding personality was fascinating a visual crowd.

Rising, also, was this new phenomenon of affordable home video technology…

Richard - Family Feud - Dawson another actor on Hogan's Heroes was into technology. Dawson had a business associate named John Carpenter (Willem - I did plenty of things besides the Green Goblin for crimony! Did you see The English Patient? Huh? Huh? - Dafoe) that would hook Crane - already a photography buff - up with the latest and greatest in this home movie video apparatus stuff-a-magal about to sweep the nation.

As Bob (Greg Kinnear) and John cultivated a close, almost spouse - like, friendship based on their mutual hobby, Crane's long marriage to high school sweetheart Anne (Rita Wilson) started to fail.

His loving wife, Anne, was cut from that 1950's straight-edged woman mold; elegant and stoic. Bob, too, it seemed…

As Crane started to seek refuge from long days at the studio, and indulge more and more into his awakening sexuality, his all-American household started to crumble faster than that hack Tom Greene's career (one can only hope…).
Bob had taken to meeting up with Carpenter at the local boobie emporium; the local strip club. Here Bobbie enjoyed boobies and relaxed by banging on some skins. Drum skins I mean. He loved to play the drums. Oh, and sex, we are about to learn...Yepp-o-daddy-o, sex, lies and videotape was heading into the forefront of Crane's world and would eventually affect all aspects of his life.

The roller coaster of Crane's life, which till now seemed to run straight and relatively smooth, starts to inch its way up the track and onto the other fast and volatile side. A new life was coming head on; his divorce, his unhappiness about his career and budding appetite for sex.
Sex with many women…. sex on videotape…. sex for dessert…. sex with the evening news and so on. His career was sadly halted after 'Hogan's Heroes' and it seemed his growing frustration in his career-helped fuel these sexual addictions.

Ultimately Bob's habits lead him to a tragic end at the hands of some lunatic - still unknown - that bludgeoned him to death while he slept. A crime of passion it seemed…. a crime with several suspects…. a crime that wasted a nice guy's life.

Brilliant director Paul Schrader glides his actors into the dark side of the psyche again. Bob Crane was not a bad man. Neither, for that matter, was John Carpenter. But, the two friends had a face they showed and a face they hid (kind of). Schrader again shows us the personality polar opposites people can and do possess. Well, then again, Bobbie apparently liked to show his photo album of his sexual acrobatics to folks like it was a stamp collection, so he wasn't exactly hiding this side of himself, I suppose.

Furiously underrated, Greg Kinnear captures Bob Crane's charm, qualities and idiosyncrasies so completely that Bob seemed to immediately just flow from Kinnear's own soul. See, I reiterate, Bob was not a bad man, just a sex addict in his personal life. And, the actor that could portray him had to have a certain charisma to keep him from just becoming a Pervie Pete. Kinnear's got gallons of charisma! In fact Gregory's charisma is so evident in his heart warming delivery of Crane that even when Auto Focus' subject matter is less than Disney MPAA Rated G for General, Kinnear and his tremendous talents manage to keep Crane likable, deep and human. Sure, Greg's as cute as a slice of Bob's Big Boy's Strawberry pie chilled to perfection with layers of sweet, mixed with tangy, dancing about….but he's also one helluva actor and I'm a big admirer of his. Heck, if he weren't happily married, I'd jump on him like a rabid Rhesus monkey.

Speaking of pools of talent as deep as Lake Baikal, Willem Dafoe is perfection personified as John Carpenter, Bob's enabling friend. And I use that term "friend" in a tone that should be heard as sarcastic, cynical and alludes to a Judas. Bill's not classically handsome, but blessed with a unique look that transports our minds immediately to a dark alley and feeling of uneasiness welling up around raised neck hairs, while still, somehow, his look is bewitching.

The women of the film, Anne, Bob's first wife, played by Rita Wilson and Patti, Bob's second wife, played by the stunning Maria Bello, were also perfectly cast. Their talents were orchestrated by Schrader to display the anguish one feels when attached to an addict.

And Maria Bello, she played Patty the open-minded-sex-toy-at-first-then-mom-wife with a desire for that gas guzzling station wagon to be parked in the driveway, with a nice depth. Keep your eye out for Bello. Sure, she's model gorgeous, but she's also extremely talented.

The casting in this film was just brilliant, down to a quick cameo of Bob Crane's own son Bob Crane Jr. as a less-than-sympathetic interviewer of Crane Sr.

Snack recommendation: Grapefruit juice and Vitamin E

Emily Blunt's interview with Willem DaFoe HERE

Emily Blunt's interview with Greg Kinnear HERE


 

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